I am currently preparing to go on safari and for me part of the fun is deciding and choosing what shiny new toys I am going to be taking with me. After my binoculars, my next most important piece of safari equipment is my camera (You can see exactly what I am taking here: What Equipment I Take on Safari), but what often gets overlooked, at least until the last moment is what you are going to carry it all in, both on the journey to Africa and then whilst you are actually on safari.
What you need is a camera bag that will not only hold all you camera equipment, but have compartments and enough space to also carry your binoculars and if like me you also combine work with your holidays, your laptop. But the best camera backpack or camera bags will also ensure that all your equipment is kept safe from damage and theft, is easy to access when you need it quickly and be small enough so that it can come on board the plane with you as hand luggage (you don’t want to have to put all your expensive gear in the cargo hold on your flight to Africa!)
Not long ago Vanguard kindly sent me one of their largest camera backpack bags to review, the Vanguard Skyborne 51, which I really loved and it easily held all my gear… with some space to spare. For me it was just a little too big and I was a little worried that the airline may not allow me to take it on board as hand luggage. It may have been fine for the long haul flight from London to Johannesburg, but the smaller internal flights were the ones I was really worried about.
The great news is Vanguard make the Skyborne Camera backpacks in a whole range of sizes. The smallest of which is the Skyborne 45, which I decided would suite my needs better and I decided to get it. Below are my thoughts:
Vanguard Skyborne 45 Review
Space & Compartments
- Inside Dimensions (LxWxH): 260 x 160 x 180mm
- Outside Dimensions (LxWxH): 340 x 340 x 490mm
- Weight: 2.3kg
- Exterior Fabric: 1000*1200D Polyester + 1000*1000D Polyester ripstop + 600D Polyester ripstop
- Interior Fabric: 210D Nylon + Velvet
- Capacity: One Pro DSLR with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8), 1~2 extra lenses, a flash unit and accessories (memory cards, cables, battery and charger) plus a laptop up to 12″ wide screen size and tripod
There are two compartments in the top section of the backpack, accessed by a zip at the front and one at the back, the largest one at the rear is designed to store anything you feel like. For me is the ideal place to store my safari binoculars, a couple of African wildlife and bird books that I use as reference in the field and still give me room for a few items of clothing, food, water etc. The zip, like all the others on this Vanguard camera bag feels very robust and should handle most of what you throw at it. I also liked the fact that if you fully undo the zip, it allows the area to be pulled wide apart, so its easy to find and get your gear in and out.
The compartment at the front of the bag is accessed by a zip along the top of the bag and has been designed to take small 12″ laptop. What is a really nice touch is the bag comes with a laptop carry case as standard, that will help to protect it even more and is a great addition even for everyday use. The quality of it is very good indeed it was far superior than the one I already had for my laptop and comes with a hand strap as well as a shoulder strap that can be attached to it!
The laptop compartment also comes with the added security of anti-theft buckles making it that much harder for someone to open it without you noticing. This is definitely one of the best camera backpack with laptop compartments that I have used.
Note: The larger Skyborne bags take bigger laptops (the Skyborne 51 takes a 17″ laptop), which is something that you may wish to keep in mind when deciding on what size is ideal for your needs. For me this one is perfect as on my travels I usually take my small notebook with me.
Camera Storage Compartment
Your main camera gear is stored at the bottom of the bag and here again Vanguard have been thinking as you don’t want the bag to be top heavy when it is on your back. The problem with this is that it could mean that your gear would be hard to access, but with a couple of very clever access panels, this is not a problem on any of these Skyborne bags.
Main Access Panel
There is a large D shaped panel that unzips from the back of the bag, fully unzipped, it makes accessing and packing your camera equipment very simple. Because the zip is on the back of the bag, under the lumber support harness, access to it is hidden from view when you are wearing it, making your gear far safer even if you forget to zip it up properly.
Here the lumber support and belt system is a slight hindrance as you open the zips until you get used to the method. Or if like me you don’t really need the added security of the lumber support straps that go around your waist, they can be removed making this camera backpack a little lighter, less bulky and a little easier to access the back panel.
The side access panel is one of the features that I like most about the Vanguard Skyborne bags. There have been many times that an opportunity to take a great photo has come out of the blue and I have missed it because I spent too much time rummaging around my other camera backpack bags trying to quickly get to my camera and my lens. The side panel means that you know where your camera is always and is quickly reachable and even if you are wearing the bag:
All you have to do is swing the Vanguard camera bag around on one shoulder and unzip the side flap for instant access to your camera without the usual annoying and time consuming ‘bag off, onto the floor’ method. Not only is this much quicker, but it is much safer, especially in a city environment for example.
The one slightly negative point, which is the strong point of the back access panel, is if you were to forget to close it. For most cameras, the foam compartment separators, should fit snugly enough to prevent your camera from falling out, but “sticky fingers” would easily have access to your camera.
There is also a handy elasticised side pocket, that can be used for many things. I can see me using it for storing a water bottle on longer walks.
This Vanguard bag has been designed to take one DSLR camera with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8), 1~2 extra lenses, a flash unit and accessories (memory cards, cables, battery and charger) – as well as the laptop and your other gear on top of the bag and with some better rearrangement (The sections are adjustable), I would say that it would be possible to carry even more.
For my equipment, it easily took my bridge camera with my Raynox DCR-2025PRO teleconversion lens attached to it, which is a real bonus as well as all my chargers, memory cards, cables and lens hood, with plenty space to spare.
Hiking camera backpack
When I first tested the camera bag, I loaded it with all my gear and went on one of my favourite hikes. The equipment that I took included my camera, my teleconverter, a full size tripod strapped to the back and my bird identification book and a full sized pair of binoculars stored in the top compartment.
Even fully laden and after a few miles, I was as comfortable as you would expect, the shoulder straps are excellent and the bag fits snugly, especially with the lumber support straps attached.
What is also noticeable and probably something that many people don’t think about is that when you have a backpack on, especially on a hot day in Africa, your back will sweat. I like the fact that Vanguard have built in air channels that will allow at least some air to circulate between the bag and your back keeping you cooler and less sweaty.
Safari and Travel camera backpack
I am confident that this bag will be accepted by most airlines as hand luggage (Always check before flying) which is a great start, but what I also really like about this bag and other good camera backpack with laptop compartments is that once you have it on, without a tripod attached to the back, it looks pretty much like a regular backpack.
The advantage of this is that it is not that obvious to potential thieves that you have expensive photographic equipment stored within it. This is ideal when you are travelling as we all know as a tourist you are always a potential target and there are times when you don’t want the world to know that you have a fancy camera with you. The laptop compartment also comes with the added security of anti-theft buckles making it that much harder for someone to open it without you noticing.
Another small thing, but once again shows Vanguards attention to detail is the included name tag attached to the hand strap on top of the bag that has a cover on it preventing people from seeing your details unless it is really needed.
Attention to Detail
Not only is the quality of the construction impressive, but there are loads of really nice touches that include the mobile phone case on one of the straps (I will probably end up storing my Swiss army knife in), a little magnetic flap that prevents the zip from accidentally opening on the side pocket, anti-theft buckles and I really like the handy pocket for lens caps, memory cards or any other small things that you often need that can be accessed from both inside and outside the bag.
The lumber support area is very well padded and makes carrying heavy equipment as comfortable as possible – the lumber straps mean that your bag will not move about, but if you are travelling a little lighter or not walking long distances, these straps can be removed, which I think is really nice. It makes the bag lighter, less bulky and makes accessing the back panel that much easier.
Whilst I don’t think the bag is waterproof, it does come with a rain cover that has it’s own storage compartment located just under the lower back support area, so it will always be with you, should you get caught in a downpour.
Also don’t forget the laptop carry bag that comes with the bag.
Like all the best camera backpacks, this bag has a strap on the rear of it to hold and carry your tripod. I also like the flap that un-tucks from it’s own compartment to keep the tripod legs in place.
When I reviewed the Skyborne 51, I liked it a whole lot, I just wished that for my needs it was smaller. Well the Vanguard Skyborne 45 is smaller and I have to say that I love it. Whilst I have not conducted many camera backpack reviews in the past, I have used quite a few throughout the years on my travels and for me this is the best one that I have ever had and is one that I will definitely be using on my next safari and on all my hikes from now on.
Cost & Where to Buy
Costing around £120 / $180 they are not the cheapest camera backpack with laptop compartments in the world, but if you take into consideration all their great features and impressive build quality and how well it protects your far more expensive gear, then I think it makes the Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack easily worth the money: